Jika Jika looks small from the outside – step in and that illusion gets flipped on its head right away. It is perhaps this size and sense of space that means it is able to get away with calling itself a canteen; in fact it lends itself pretty well to the concept. Whoever was responsible for kitting the place out has done a remarkable job of combing an airy, industrial feel with very timely vintage touches – retro, pub-style pinned leather sofas and mismatched school classroom hard wooden chairs. Distressed cabinets double up as artsy accessories and practical storage areas. The glass Heinz ketchup bottles sitting on top allow the whole setup to keep a rather down-to-earth, honest grounding.
Humble breakfast options like sausage and bacon sandwiches carry on that theme, though tarted up with ciabatta and tomato relish, while hollandaise sauce and avocado come as optional accompaniments to scrambled or poached eggs on toast (no fried eggs here). Guacamole and sour cream ‘breakfast burritos’ are on offer until late afternoon, topped up with lunch choices that include a steak sandwich with balsamic onions, and the popular ‘Jika Jika Weigh Bar’. It wasn’t around when I visited, but ordinarily serves up meats, hot dishes, tarts and salads, yours for the taking at a price per hundred grams. Evening sees the appearance of an appetising yet somewhat limited selection of tapas-style dishes, flatbreads and charcuterie – nice to see pork rillettes (or rillets, as they call them) on the menu, since they originate from Le Mans, the city in France famous for its twenty-four hour sports car race, and only an hour or so away from Nantes, where I was living last year.
The size of Jika Jika means it has been possible to carve the space up a little, with a removable dividing partition separating off the tables at far end of the long hall-like shop floor. While next door’s Adventure Café Bar benefits from a decked outdoor area that Jika Jika doesn’t, the space that they enjoy on the rare occasions that the weather plays ball is Jika Jika’s to work with all year round. The tables towards the back of Jika Jika make for a nicer spot to read, work or actually be able to have a conversation – the combination of the noise made by baristas knocking out used coffee ground (understandable) and deafening music from the overhead speaker (less so) makes a seat near the counter less than pleasant. Again, though, it’s testament to what they’ve done with the space that two ends of one shop can have such a different feel.
A selection of newspapers and shelves and shelves of books, everything from novels to cookery titles, is a nice touch. The free wi-fi is fast and reliable, and there are a few plugs scattered around for you to charge your phone or laptop – though these are on-the-floor metal flap jobs, rather unattractive and unfortunate not anywhere near getting away with being passed off as part of the industrial feel. In fact, it feels as though these finishing touches are one area where the mystery interiors expert I praised earlier has in fact missed the mark, and by quite a way. In the same way the toilets, though clean, display a distinct lack of the retro love that has gone into the rest of the place. Pound shop spring-lid bins and shiny metal bathroom stands holding tissues feel tacky and, while the rest of the place has lovely blackboards etched with messages, the toilets can only offer faceless laminated print-outs along the lines of ‘do not flush hand tissues – use the bin provided.’ Perhaps this is petty, but toilets can make or break a place, and for me it is these tiny touches that make the difference and join the dots with the rest of an outlet.
Staff are plentiful but a little hit-and-miss, though I suspect this is precisely due to the sheer number of them; managing large numbers of staff in an environment like this is never easy, and you inevitably lose some of the fail-safe smiles you get in a smaller scale setting. None of the staff warranted a genuinely negative reaction from me but, while some were very friendly and had an excellent rapport with customers, others were no more than so-so, which is a shame for a place like this which needs to be building its reputation on faultless, go-the-extra-mile service.
In its defence, it is the coffee that Jika Jika makes a big deal about, and that much is warranted. They claim to serve the best in Bath – for me it still comes second to Colonna & Small’s, but definitely makes my top-three-anywhere along with Monmouth near Borough Market. My flat white (£2.35) was strong and perfectly creamy rather than frothy, with some pleasing latte art on top just to prove their worth. The chai latte (£2.50) was just sweet enough, a strong contender to battle with the offering at Boston tea Party, though with a stronger-than-usual cardamom note that I can’t yet decide whether I am a fan of. A nice range of cakes and pastries accompany, freshly made each day. Overall Jika Jika is a winner and, having only just visited for the first time, I feel like I’ve long been missing a trick.
Jika Jika, 4a Princes Buildings, George Street, Bath
Open 8am-11pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am-11pm Saturday and 9am-5pm Sunday
Tel: 01225 429 903 www.jikajika.co.uk
Twitter: @jika_jika www.facebook.com/jikabath